"It’s the classic thing. You either want to be in a band or play football. I wasn’t good enough at football" says Diggory Kenrick, the front man of the London-based band Venus Ray and the owner of independent record label Negative Records.

There is no doubt that Venus Ray, who have already released 2 albums, and who are now currently working at a 3rd one, are more than good enough at making music.

Venus Ray were formed in 1999 by Diggory (vocals, bass, guitar, percussion), Barney Oliver (piano, bass, guitar, vocals), Robert Coyne (guitar, bass, drums), Tony Thewlis (bass, vocals, guitar) and Steve Smith (drums percussion, vocals). While the members of the band have been playing together for over 4 years, they have been making music for much longer, all playing as well in many other bands before that. You might have come across at some point Electrocuting Elvis, Silver Chapter or the Scientists who all have the genes of Venus Ray inside of them in the form of future band members.

As I talk to Diggory one Wednesday night in the Blue Post pub by Oxford Circus I found that Venus Ray actually started as a result of an unfortunate accident. "I stopped playing guitar because I cut the tip off of my finger with a knife by an accident" Diggory says, sitting in the upstairs of the pub at a dark brown wooden table. "I couldn’t play the guitar over a year! When I started playing again I played in my friend’s band and then I decided to do some songs with Steve who was in the band I was in at the time, Electrocuting Elvis. -

Once the idea of forming a new band settled in the 2 musicians started looking for more people to join them.. An advert in Melody Maker brought other 2 musicians in to the band. "Weirdly," Diggory continues "it turned out that one of them, Rob, I knew anyway because when I was in one of my past bands I supported his band and we had lots of friends in common. It’s all like a musical family in London. All of us are a bit pissed of with mainstream music but there are enough of us to have our own scene"

"I’ve always played music since I was a kid" he adds. "I still would be playing instruments even if I wasn’t in a band."

Perhaps it's not only Diggory's musical family in London that has become "pissed off" with main stream music. Waters run deep in in every part of the world and Venus Ray attracted attention in Spain when Mark Kitcatt at Everlasting Records (a subsidiary of Beggars Banquet) decided to release a record by the band.

"We have never had any career ambitions" Diggory admits modestly.
"Then Everlasting Records decided they would give us some money to make a record! And we just went in to a studio without any clue what we were doing" he laughs. "And just ended up pressing all the buttons by ourselves and making lots of mistakes and then mistakes from mistakes." In spite of that, Venus Ray first album , 'Chuck Berry vs IBM', was a very successful first recording.

'Chuck Berry vs IBM' was recorded at the same studio as where My Bloody Valentine did some recording . "The studio has a very weird atmosphere" Diggory says describing it and laughing. "People claim to see ghosts there and sometimes we would come back after we had recorded something and listen to it and hear something that we didn’t know where it had come from."

The spontaneity of recording in this way, despite the mistakes made ,seemed to work for Venus Ray, making their music sound unpredictable and giving it its own character. "There are so many records that you know what to expect next. It's funny because with our first record in particular, people either say they love it or hate it. Nobody says “Oh yeah, it's alright.” People either say "What the hell ! Are you guys are fucking about?!” or they really like it. The last album is maybe a bit more smooth and it's easier to listen to it all the way through."

While the 'Chuck Berry vs IBM' was recorded and released relatively quickly, the second album, 'The World Woke Up Without Me', took much longer. In fact, it took a whole year as the band dealt with the impact of losing their drummer and very close friend Steve Smith, who died in the middle of recording.

"I think we recorded all the basic tracks in about 4 days" Diggory reflects. "And after we recorded them, before we came back to mix them Steve died. His death is still a tragic mystery. It seems he had a hidden heart condition, and he just died in the middle of the night. I don't think any of us can believe that he's not still here. For a long time we couldn’t go back to it. He was a really good friend to all of us, and I knew him since I was 15. When he died we were all so upset that we just couldn’t face finishing the album."

"Just listening to him play always makes us really emotional." Diggory continues. "So we left it to one side for about 3 or 4 months and then we decided that Steve would want us to finish it. He had recorded all the drums already so we decided to put it out as a tribute to him and then we just decided to carry on with the band as well." Obviously the band needed a drummer. "We didn’t like the idea of getting another drummer so we just slimmed down to the 4 of us" explains Diggory. "Rob who played guitars just switched to drums. We decided we were either going to have Rob on drums or no one but it's working really well."

Steve's death affected the choice of tracks as well. "We ended up with a slightly upbeat album at the end" explains Diggory. "We couldn’t face putting sad songs on the album."

The sleeve of 'The World Woke Up Without Me' is a gold glittery colour and there is a picture of metal object in the centre which is reminiscent of a space ship. "That’s Steve's drums" reveals Diggory when I ask him about it. "He had this beautiful drum kit in a sort of 1960’s style. The artwork is a close up of the drum kit. It does look like a UFO or something."

The art work for the first album came out of chance and a computer crash. "It’s got lots of stripes in the background" Diggory reveals. "The guy who did the artwork was trying to e-mail it to us but it all went wrong. We zoomed into it and it all had these perfect lines on it. And we thought that that was great and it also fitted our philosophy that some of the best things are born out of a disaster."

The success that Venus Ray have met with so far is something to be proud of. Both of their albums have earned favourable reviews from magazines such as 'The Times', 'Melody Maker' and 'Uncut'.

The band are now working hard on their 3rd album. "It’s going to be totally, totally different compared to our last albums. We’ve got about 45 songs to select from! We will try to record the basic songs in 3 days so I don't know how we do it! It seems to work for us though to really concentrate in short time and then see what happens."

As I continue talking to Diggory about his music I find that seeing Venus Ray live is equally unpredictable as listening to their records. Venus Ray are not afraid to improvise right in front of the audience. "It doesn’t always work though." admits Diggory laughing. "We do improvise and 2 songs will come out great and 1 will be really shit. A lot of bands are so professional that it can be quite boring. It’s more fun when we don’t know what will happen next."

Sometimes it is not always the band that make a a show unpredictable. "We have always had a bit of a curse and often something goes wrong" Diggory says. "We did a gig 2 months ago and the whole PA system blew uphalf way through a song. We just kept playing but there was nothing coming out of speakers. Then, suddenly, it all come back on again and sounded really great. I suppose that’s the aim though, just try not to be boring and be memorable."

The band recently played a gig at the 100 Club on Oxford Street in London, supporting the 70's punk icon Wreckless Eric. "He is a really nice guy. He has produced recordings by 2 of the other bands that I’ve been in. He is a great singer and song writer but he is also a great Phil Spector like type producer. He just asked us to play with him. It was really good."

Diggory, of course, also runs his record label, Negative Records. The label has Venus Ray on its roster but he is hoping to add more bands to it in the future. Diggory first founded Negative Records in 1998. "The idea has always been to put out lots of other bands too" Diggory comments. "At the moment we don’t have the money to put out more but next year we will put some more out. It’s a mad thing to run a record label nowadays and it’s hard to make any money but it feels better and it’s much more relaxed to put your own music out yourself."

Running your own record label gives Diggory and Venus Ray complete control over their music and freedom. "The idea of putting music out yourself is quite attractive." Diggory explains. "You may not sell as many records as if you were on a big label but it’s quite satisfying that you sell them all yourself. So many people signed to big labels get dropped or messed about. Also no one can rip us off. It’s just a shame that at the moment it’s struggle to sell lots of records and if we had founding we could put out more and I know we could sell more as well."

"We are going to be putting out a new album by a band that I'm also in the the Scoundrelles Diggory continues. We have just finished a debut album 'Organic Molecules In Action!' and it will be out in January. I think the next album by Venus Ray will be out in March and hopefully the next album by Venus Ray will be out in September so we would have 2 albums by Venus Ray and one by The Scoundrelles."

There are also plans to release an album by Mean Vincent whose original line-up included Steve Smith. "It would be great if we could put that out ourselves. The album is finished and it’s really good. It’s just a case of money really."

Money is not everything as people often say but there often comes a point when you just can't do without it. At least it's now clear that where ever Venus Ray will be its members will always be making music. It's in their blood.

Let's hope there will be enough money in the future to let Venus Ray record more albums still and perhaps release all those 45 tracks that they are headling into the studio with. Even though the band had to face the great loss of their best friend and drummer, Steve Smith, they are still strong and together. And I believe in some way Steve is still with them as well.


Venus Ray will appear at the Penny Black Night in early February next year.













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